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SWEEP Report #15

An Annotated Bibliography of Socio-Economic Soil and
Water Conservation Research

J. A. Smithers and S. N. Duff, Ecologistics Limited, Waterloo, Ont.

Executive Summary

Evaluation Summary (Tech. Transfer Report Summaries)

View / Download Final Report [359 KB pdf]

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research



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Completed: August, 1990

Key Words:

bibliography, social, economic, soil, water, conservation, research, adoption

Executive Summary

It has long been recognized that achieving soil and water conservation is dependent on individual decisions of farm operators. This is especially true in a voluntary compliance context where decisions are made as to whether conservation technologies will be adopted, adapted, or rejected. Research has established that both social and economic factors influence this decision process.

The following is an annotated bibliography of research that has examined the role of these social and economic factors in influencing the conservation adoption decision process. The literature was examined to assess the current body of knowledge in this regard, present this assessment in a organized fashion, and identify any research deficiencies to assist future researchers working in this area.

In view of the purpose of this project, annotations focus on social and economic factors. This socio-economic literature parallels and often overlaps a much larger body of research examining the physical processes associated with soil and water conservation. Understanding of both the physical and socio-economic dimensions is necessary for sound resource management. However, the emphasis in this report is on social and economic factors influencing adoption of soil and water conservation practices.

In consulting the annotated bibliography, users will notice a preponderance of research articles from the United States relative to Canada This is not due to the issue being more important in one nation as opposed to the other, but to certain institutional arrangements found in the United States. Social scientists within land grant universities in the United States have had, and continue to have, access to long-term federal funds that have supported many of the projects annotated in this report. This situation, combined with the long history of public sector involvement through such agencies as the Soil Conservation Service, has stimulated considerable activity in all aspects of soil and water conservation.

The report begins by identifying a number of social (personal and community) and economic (farm firm and institutional) factors that may influence the use of conservation practices. Research articles were sought in nine electronic data bases, numerous personal contacts with experts working in this area and manual literature searches. A total of 255 records (research reports) were annotated into the PROCITE software system. Seventy key descriptors or search terms were assigned to the records to enable users to locate references by subject matter.

Frequency counts were made of citations associated with the key descriptors or terms as a method of discriminating major research questions and issues. These results were combined with judgments of staff to identify 12 major research questions. These questions served as a foundation for a workshop attended by researchers, extension personnel and program managers. The objective of the workshop was to articulate and rank research needs. Nineteen research issues or questions were identified and ranked using nominal group techniques. Rating scores varied between 10 and 22 with 13 research topics receiving a score of 18 or higher. These results indicated that there are not one or two critical issues; rather there are a set of inter-related issues that need to be addressed in a coordinated or systems fashion. A summary of research needs (Chapter 4) arising from the annotations and workshop is discussed in the context of research design and approach, policy, economics, and technology transfer.


Evaluation Summary

(From Technology Transfer Report Summaries - A. Hayes, L. Cruickshank, Co-Chairs)
The three objectives of this study were to:
  1. Conduct an intensive bibliographic search of the relevant literature sources on the social and economic factors which are believed to contribute to the adoption of soil and water conservation practices.
  2. Present the findings in a computerized, annotated bibliography.
  3. Analyze the research conducted to date and identify the gaps in socio-economic research regarding the adoption of agricultural soil and water conservation practices.

The search was limited to North American socio-economic soil and water conservation experience from 1970 onwards. The search was further restricted to "hard" scientific research (journals, etc.), emphasis on the 1980's, and grey literature, including the popular farm press, was excluded. The databases searched are listed as well as key descriptors/search terms applied to the annotations. A total of 255 records are included in the bibliography and it was compiled on the bibliographic software package PROCITE. These are listed in appendix B of the report. A copy of the PROCITE database is housed in the Soil and Water Conservation Information Bureau, University of Guelph.

A workshop was held to identify the socio-economic research gaps in the province. The workshop participants included researchers, extension personnel and program managers, conservation farmers, as well as Ecologistics staff. Twelve questions were developed for discussion at the workshop. The questions were taken largely from the further study indicated in the research papers in the bibliography. A total of nineteen topic areas were derived from the discussion and were then ranked.

The four highest ranked issues were as follows: (all had equal scores) account for risk in economic analyses, the need for integrated research, off-site considerations in public policy and policy designed according to the nature of the problem. The next highest ranked (again with equal scores) were: biophysical limitations to economic research, evaluation of policy instruments and evaluation of applicability of U.S. findings.

The final part of the study summarizes the research questions or needs which have emerged from various elements of the study. The research needs were summarized in five areas: research, design and approach, policy, economics and technology transfer.


The report should prove to be a useful reference for the research community, policy, researchers and conservationists. Much is known about socio-economic fundamentals. There exists a need to link the most applicable of these to practice.

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research:

  • SWEEP Report #3 - An Economic Assessment of the Distribution of Benefits Arising from Adoption of Conservation Tillage Practices in Crop Production in Southwestern Ontario
  • SWEEP Report #7 - Sources of Motivation in the Adoption of Conservation Tillage
  • SWEEP Report #8 - Social Structure and the Choice of Cropping Technology: Influence of Personal Networks on the Decision to Adopt Conservation Tillage
  • SWEEP Report #9 - Conservation Practices in Southwestern Ontario Agriculture: Barriers to Adoption

Future Research: ( ) indicates reviewers suggestion for priority, A - high, C - low.

(C) The report identifies a number of areas that require further research.



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Created: 05-28-1996
Last Revised: Thursday, May 19, 2011 01:54:03 PM